Philip Roth’s “Indignation” Now a Film: An Interview With Director James Schamus

By Lisa Grunberger (with research support by Robert G. Margolis)

“Nobody has anything to worry about from a book.” — Philip Roth, in a conversation about his novel “Indignation”

“Take care, philosophers and friends, of knowledge, and beware of martyrdom!” — Friedrich Nietzsche in “Beyond Good and Evil”

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

Courtesy of Roadside Attractions

I said to screenwriter and director James Schamus, as we began to discuss his directorial debut, a theatrical film version of Philip Roth’s novel Indignation: “The movie deserves the disclaimer: ‘No words by Philip Roth were harmed during the making of this movie.'” [Read more…]

An Unusual Holocaust Film

— by Ronit Treatman

The life of a Jewish dwarf who miraculously survived the Holocaust is the inspiration for a new motion picture project.

The Lilliput will illustrate how Abraham Kerber was able to defeat the odds of surviving the war by using his weaknesses as strengths. This dark fairy tale, which is being shot in Gabin and Lodz, Poland, promises to be one of the most moving new films being produced about the Holocaust.

American stage, television, and movie actor Mark Povinelli will star as “Umchik,” as Abraham was affectionately called. Povinelli was one of the seven dwarves in Mirror, Mirror, and a regular on the television show Are You There, Chelsea?  

More after the jump.
The film will take us back to Poland in 1938. Umchik survived the war by hiding in tiny places that the Nazis did not think to search. He concealed himself in garbage cans in the rail yards and underground in the sewers.

Umchik was a photographer and an ardent Zionist. His best friend was Esther, a Jewish woman who converted to Christianity to marry a gentile. Her family and community disowned her for making this choice, and Abraham remained her only friend. As the war progressed, Umchik and Esther supported and understood each other as no one else could.

When the war was over, Umchik moved to Israel. He settled in Kiryat Tivon, and worked as a journalist and photographer. He died on April 19, 1978, and was buried in Kiryat Tivon. The names of his relatives who perished in the Holocaust were etched on his tombstone. The final inscription reads, “G-d will avenge their blood.”

The script was written by filmmaker, screenwriter and producer Minna Packer. She is a graduate of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, the Pratt Institute, and a Fullbright scholar at the Lodz Film School. She previously directed and produced the documentary Back to Gombin.

For more information, a preview of the movie, and an opportunity to contribute to this project, go to the film’s website.

Philadelphia Jewish Voice Gives Away Free Tickets to Jewtopia

The Philadelphia Jewish Voice will give away two pairs of free tickets to Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson’s film adaptation of their hit comedy Jewtopia, which premieres Friday. The movie stars Ivan Sergei, Jennifer Love Hewitt, Joel David Moore, Jamie-Lynn Sigler, Jon Lovitz and Rita Wilson.

In order to be able to win, just click here to sign yourself or a friend up for our free weekly newsletter. Use the comment field to indicate that you are interested in a pair of tickets. Two new subscribers will be chosen at random. Each will receive a pair of tickets, good to see the film at the AMC Theater in Plymouth Meeting, Monday-Thursday during the film’s run.

Plot summary follows the jump.
In the movie, Christian O’Connell (Ivan Sergei) has met the girl of his dreams in Alison Marks (Jennifer Love Hewitt). Unfortunately, Christian told Alison (who happens to be a rabbi’s daughter) that his name was Avi Rosenberg, and that he was Jewish — neither of which are true.

Desperate to keep up the illusion, he turns to his childhood best friend, Adam Lipschitz (Joel David Moore) to teach him how to “act Jewish.” But Adam has problems of his own, with a fiancé (Jamie-Lynn Sigler) pushing him closer to a mental breakdown as their wedding approaches.

With the best intentions, Adam and Christian attempt to help each other out, but things quickly go completely and hilariously off the rails.

First Israeli to Produce an Oscar-Winning Film Keeps Dreaming

In a year of acclaimed documentary films about the Middle East, Yael Melamede has achieved an unusual distinction: she is the first Israeli in the history of the Academy Awards to produce an Oscar-winning movie: Inocenete. The movie, which won the Oscar for best documentary short last February, is not about the Middle East. Its subject is a homeless teenager from San Diego with an outsize personality and an extraordinary artistic talent.

Melamede said:

We’ve seen such extraordinary work out of Israel in the past few years, films like Footnote, The Gatekeepers and Five Broken Cameras, which attest to the creativity and urgency of artistic voices in the region. I’m honored to be the first Israeli producer of an Oscar-winning movie, but I know I won’t be the last.

More after the jump.
Melamede was born and raised in New York City, and her parents are both Israeli: her mother is a renowned architect who designed Israel’s Supreme Court building, and her father was a businessman and former Israeli Air Force pilot, a veteran of the Six Day War. Melamede has produced both documentaries and independent feature projects, covering an eclectic range of topics.

Like many people from the Middle East, I straddle multiple cultures. Though our work covers varied topics and places, my choices are always informed by who I am and where I’m from.

Inocente began as a project about homeless teens, which Melamede embarked on with the directors Sean Fine and Andrea Nix Fine. The 40-minute film, which charts Inocente Izucar’s extraordinary life story, aired on MTV, receiving widespread media attention and rave reviews, and was screened to select audiences everywhere from Hollywood to Capitol Hill. Glamour magazine called the film “insanely inspiring.” Another of Inocente’s distinctions is to have been the first Oscar winner financed in part by an online Kickstarter campaign.

“My Architect,” Melamede’s first foray into documentaries, was nominated for an Academy Award in 2004. It tells the story of the famous but elusive architect Louis Kahn through the eyes of his son Nathaniel. In addition to designing some projects in Israel, Kahn designed two buildings at Yale University, where Melamede was herself an architecture student; it was the perfect vehicle for Melamede’s transition from architect to filmmaker. In 2003, Melamede and Eva Kolodner founded Salty Features, with the goal of making “salty” films — films that were neither “sweet,” nor “sour.”

Among Melamede’s current projects is a reality television series entitled “Bad Habits,” being developed with Morgan Spurlock and inspired by the work of Dan Ariely, an acclaimed Israeli-American behavioral economist and bestselling author. Ariely’s work is also the impetus for Melamede’s directorial debut that’s currently in production: a feature documentary entitled Slippery Slopes.

During the next year, Melamede hopes to film in Israel her passion project: the adaptation of Amy Wilentz’s best-selling novel Martyrs’ Crossing, which delves into the harrowing personal struggles that result from the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A friend and colleague recently told me that I seem to be drawn to stories about people doing the impossible. I had never thought about it that way but it’s true. I am a fervent idealist and realist and a lot of that comes from my particular Israeli background.  I dream of being back in the running for an Academy Award, perhaps with a film from Israel.

Streit’s Matzo Raises Money for Documentary

— by Michael Levine

On Manhattan’s Lower East Side, in a series of four nondescript brick tenement buildings, sits the Streit’s Matzo factory. In 1925, when Aron Streit opened the factory’s doors, it sat at the heart of the nation’s largest Jewish immigrant community. Today, in its fifth generation of family ownership, in a rapidly gentrifying Lower East Side, it remains as the last family-owned matzo factory in America. This place is filled with history and tradition, and not only in the sense that the recipe for their product is 3,000 years old.

More after the jump.
The machinery still used here to bake and pack 40% of the nation’s matzo is as old as the factory itself. The owners still sit at their great-grandfathers’ desks, declining to clear the drawers of the contents left by their forbearers. They have, again and again, refused offers by developers for their real estate, and resisted modernizing the facility, worried of the potential effects on their fiercely loyal workforce, made of neighborhood residents and immigrants from around the world, many of whom have been working there for 30 years or more.  

And yet, while in many ways Streit’s may seem a relic from another age, they continue to thrive, consistently receiving more orders than they can fill.

In a neighborhood where the Jewish immigrants have long ago moved on, in a nation where progress and profits trump all else, where manufacturing has left the cities if not the country, where family businesses are bought out by giant corporations, and workers move from job to low-paying job, Streit’s remains a Lower East Side institution, and a glimmer of hope for the American Dream.

I’ve been working in documentary film and television (Showtime, A&E, History Channel, HGTV, and numerous independent projects) for the past nine years, and having deep family roots on the Lower East Side (my father’s side settled on Rivington Street in 1910), I am truly thrilled and honored to have a chance to make this film. It has been a dream of mine, for years, to tell this story, and seeing it come together has been nothing short of amazing. And while I’m at it, let me thank you again for your support! Your belief in this project is what promises to get me through all the sleepless nights of editing ahead — I’m so excited to get this film out into the world!

I’m also thrilled to be working on this project with the my producer, Michael Green, whose long and storied career in the world of food and drink (19 years at Gourmet Magazine, appearances on Food Network, Today Show, and much more), his experience as a producer across many forms of media, and his unwavering passion for this project, have made working on this film with him an extraordinary experience.

We are joining forces to create a film, a feature-length documentary, that will tell the story of Streit’s — of the factory, of the family, of its workers, of its place in the rich history of the Lower East Side and in America. It is a story of tradition, of resilience and resistance, of the perseverance of the Jewish people, and of immigrants of all faiths, so many of whom have found home in the Lower East Side, behind the doors of Streit’s, or in the matzo they bake.

In order to make this project possible, we are raising money with Kickstarter. So far, about 300 people have chosen to support us, and we have raised close to $30,000. Please help us reach our goal of $60,000.

UN-Supported Schools Preach “Armed Struggle” against Israel

— by Dave Bedein

Inside the UNRWA classroom, produced on location in the UNRWA refugee camps, represents the first time that the Center for Near East Policy Research crews gained direct access to teachers, principals and pupils in the UNRWA classrooms in Nablus, Jerusalem and Gaza.

In this film, UNRWA teachers and students speak openly about what they are taught in UNRWA schools — to devote their lives to the “Right of Return” to villages lost in 1948 (within the Green Line — not in the West Bank and Gaza) through the “armed struggle.”

Links:

Film Chat: The World Is Funny

— by Hannah Lee

This year’s Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia opened this past weekend with the 2012 box-office hit, The World is Funny. The gala weekend included a visit by the director/screenwriter, Shemi Zarhin, for a Q&A session with Sunday’s audience.

Nominated for a record-setting 15 times by the Israeli Film Academy for its Ophir Awards (and won for one), The World is Funny is set in Tiberias, the birthplace and muse of its director. It has a stellar cast, including Assi Levy, who won a Best Actress Ophir for her starring role in the 2006 film Aviva My Love (Aviva Ahuvati), also written and directed by Zarhin. This film also is graced by the presence of an Israeli legend, Yeshayahu “Shaike” Levi, whose career with the Gashash HaHiver comedy trio spanned 40 years and won the Israel Prize in 2000. (My favorite Zarhin film remains the 2007 “Noodle,” in part because of the Israeli cheerful bravado spirit and the Chinese actors.)

More after the jump.
The World is Funny is narrated by a young woman, Tsephi, who cleans houses (although she doesn’t need the income) while seeking out interesting stories for the writing workshop that she attends at the library. Her duties bring her into the lives of three estranged siblings: Yardena, whose daughter died while serving in the Israeli Army; Meron, whose wife died in a car crash and whose teen son has awakened from a 8-year resultant coma; and Golan, whose sweetheart is dying from cancer.

In a testament to the writer’s craft, the film is not depressing. The director livens up the mood with comic depictions of the student writer’s scenes, including a man who falls in love with the goat he’s raising for slaughter for his son’s bar mitzvah celebration, and an assassin who only reveals his true face during his deadly assignments.

“Is the world funny?”, asked Zarhin during the Q&A session. “Well, it’s not so funny; it’s actually sad. But, it’s up to us to make it funny, because we need it to be so”, he answered.

Israeli films succeed when they are “communicative,” when they touch people, and not subjects. Zarhin concludes, “Life is a story we’re telling to ourselves — especially in Israel — and it always has a happy ending, but in Israel, it’s always too late.”

After the opening weekend, which included The World is Funny, By Summer’s End and a collection of short films, Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia continues with “Life in Stills,” “Out in the Dark,” “A Bottle in the Gaza Sea,” and “The Flat,” concluding with “Fill the Void,” on March 17 and a farewell reception at Zahav.


First row: Cultural attaché for the Israeli embassy Deborah Baer Mozes, Israeli Consul General Yaron Saidman, Israeli Film Festival Founder and Coordinator Mindy Chriqui, The World is Funny Producer Shemi Zarhin, IFF Board Member Kira Stein.
Second row: IFF Web and Social Media Chair Irene Glickman, IFF Board Member Galit Carmeli, IFF Chairperson Nurit Yaron, IFF Board Member Idit Trope.
Back row: IFF Board Member Linor Schmeidler, IFF Board Member Zvi Shmulevitch, IFF Board Member Marvin Verman, IFF Board Member Hava Grunwald, and IFF Media and Communications Chair Aelon Porat.

The Gatekeepers: Israel’s Nominee for the Oscar

— by Steve Sheffy

You should see The Gatekeepers, which is nominated for a Best Documentary Feature Academy Award in the Ceremony today, while it’s still in the theaters, and urge everyone you know to see it. If you’re looking for a feel-good movie this isn’t it. If you’re looking for an intelligent, honest examination of what is going on in Israel, this is a must-see.

The Shin Bet (Shabak) is Israel’s internal security agency. The Gatekeepers features all six living former heads of the Shin Bet: Avraham Shalom, Yaakov Peri, Carmi Gillon, Ami Ayalon, Avi Dichter, and Yuval Diskin.

More after the jump.
The Wall Street Journal writes:

The Israeli journalist Dror Moreh has hit a documentarian’s trifecta with The Gatekeepers. It’s an exemplary piece of enterprise journalism, a vivid history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and a polemic that’s all the more remarkable for the shared experience of the polemicists. They are six former heads of the Shin Bet, Israel’s secretive internal-security service, and, to a man, they deplore most of the political leaders who have shaped their nation’s turbulent history — not for being too weak, as one might expect to hear from these toughest of professional hard-liners, but for being too rigid, hypocritical or indifferent to negotiate with their Arab enemies.

Yet, as the New York Times notes:

While it is true that Mr. Peri and his colleagues generally favor the curtailment of Jewish settlements on the West Bank and a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, they are hardly doves or bleeding hearts. And their shared professional ethos of ruthless, unsentimental pragmatism is precisely what gives such force to their worries about the current state of Israeli politics.

The Times concludes:

It is guaranteed to trouble any one, left, right, center or head in the sand, with confidence or certainly in his or her own opinions. If you need reassurance or grounds for optimism about the Middle East, you will not find it here. What you will find is rare, welcome and almost unbearable clarity.

When people tell me that I should see a movie and decide for myself whether it is good or bad, fair or unbalanced, I usually take a pass. I haven’t got much time to waste on movies that might not be good or that advance a political agenda I may or not agree with. I’d rather read. But this movie is just too important not to see.

All six living former heads of the Shin Bet: No one can question their love of Israel, their devotion to Israel, or their knowledge. Something is not true simply because these six say it’s true. But it’s hard to imagine any other six people whose views we should take at least as seriously. You might not agree with them, but you can’t say the views they express are not pro-Israel. And yes, the film does accurately present their points of view: Carmi Gillon, one of the six, says:

The importance for me is the message the film gives to the Israeli public. The message is that occupation is bad for the future of Israeli society from all aspects — humanistic, economic, moral, etc. I can assure you that all six former heads and some 95% of my colleagues and workers from the Shin Bet from over three decades all agree with the overall conclusions of the film.

The movie is impossible to summarize and packs a lot of information into 95 minutes. Three of many key points are:

  1. Israel should talk with anyone about peace.
  2. The occupation is bad for Israel and will get worse for Israel the longer it continues.
  3. The only reason the Palestinian Authority cooperates with Israel on security matters is that they hope the result will be a state of their own. In other words, they are not cooperating to help Israel but to help themselves, and they may stop cooperating if they lose hope.

It occurred to me while listening to these former heads of the Shin Bet that if Chuck Hagel had said to the Senate Armed Services Committee what these six men say in this film, there’s no way he would be confirmed. Then on Friday I read this review, which lists the same quotes that struck me while watching the film.

If you want to cling to your illusions, I can recommend several supposedly pro-Israel groups right here (and I do mean “right”) who regularly feature speakers and programs designed to describe the world as we’d like it to be, not as it is. For them, Israel is the Israel that never was, the Israel of Paul Newman and Exodus, an Israel that doesn’t have to choose between retaining the West Bank and remaining a democracy because demographic facts to them are just myths. But we can’t effectively advocate for Israel if we divorce ourselves from reality. See The Gatekeepers and decide for yourself.

Martin Ben Moreh of the Reut Institute recommends “strongly that every Israeli and every Jew should see this film regardless of what their particular political views are.”

Let’s hope The Gatekeepers wins an Oscar tonight.

17th Israeli Film Festival Opens Next Month

The Israeli Film Festival of Philadelphia will mark its 17th year next month, March 2-17. The aim of the festival is enriching the American vision of Israeli culture and society through film. A slate of feature films and documentaries were selected with a goal of providing a diverse and impartial reflection of Israel. The program includes feature films, dramas, comedies and documentaries that are award-winning and have received wide recognition both in Israel and abroad.

Click on each event for more details and a trailer.


The World is Funny

Fill the Void

By Summer’s End

Life in Stills